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The orbit of Toutatis periodically brings it close to Earth. This image shows the positions of planets when Toutatis passed close to Earth in September 2004.
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Windows to the Universe original artwork by Randy Russell, based on orbital information from NASA's Near Earth Object Program.

Asteroid Toutatis Passes Near Earth
News story originally written on October 1, 2004

An asteroid the size of a mountain passed close to Earth on September 29, 2004. How close? Not close enough to worry about, but close enough for astronomers to get a pretty good look at it. Asteroid Toutatis passed within 1.5 million kilometers (961 thousand miles) of Earth, about four times the distance to the Moon.

Toutatis is a "yam-shaped" rock that measures 1.92 km by 2.29 km by 4.6 km (1.2 by 1.4 by 2.9 miles). An asteroid that size would cause global devastation if it hit Earth. No known asteroid as large as Toutatis will pass as close to Earth this century. The orbit of Toutatis brings it fairly close to Earth periodically, though it won't be so close again for another 500 years (in 2562). This pass brought Toutatis closer to Earth than it had been since at least the 12th century. The asteroid takes slightly less than four years to orbit the Sun. It's orbit brings it slightly inside of Earth's orbit at its closest approach to the Sun, and sends it beyond Mars, though not quite to Jupiter, at its furthest.

Toutatis was discovered in 1989. It is named after a god of the Celts and Gauls. Toutatis means 'king of the world', 'king of battle' or 'father of the tribe'. Toutatis was a god of war, growth and prosperity which represented the unity and the harmony of the tribe. Several smaller asteroids have passed closer to Earth in recent years. Fortunately, neither they nor Toutatis actually crashed into our planet!

Last modified October 11, 2004 by Randy Russell.

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